Surrender At Appomattox

PrintPrintEmailEmail April 8th, 1865. General: —I received at a late hour your note of today. I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender. But as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desire to know whether your proposals would tend to that end. I cannot, therefore meet you with a view to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia; but as far as your proposition may affect the Confederate state forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at ten A.M. tomorrow, on the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket lines of the two armies. Very Respectfully Your Obedient Servant. R. E. Lee, General C.S.A. To Lieutenant-General Grant; Commanding Armies of the United States.•

• The text of this note given by Cadwallader is essentially though not absolutely correct. See Douglas Southall Freeman: R. E. Lee (New York. 1947, 1949), IV, 133, for the exact text.

The reading of this cool disingenuous dispatch threw Gen. Rawlins into unusually bad temper, and he began at once: “He did not propose to surrender,” he says. “Diplomatic but not true. He did propose, in his heart, to surrender. He now tries to take advantage of a single word used by you, as a reason for extending such easy terms. He now wants to entrap us into making a treaty of peace. You said nothing about that. You asked him to surrender. He replied by asking what terms you would give if he surrendered. You answered, by stating the terms. Now he wants to arrange for peace—something beyond and above the surrender of his army—something to embrace the whole Confederacy, if possible. No Sir! No Sir. Why it is a positive insult; and an attempt in an underhanded way, to change the whole terms of the correspondence.”

Then came Grant’s soft, moderate, persuasive, and apologetic voice: “Some allowance must be made for the trying position in which Gen. Lee is placed. He is compelled to defer somewhat to the wishes of his government, and his military associates. But it all means precisely the same thing. If I meet Lee, he will surrender before I leave.”

By previous invitation we all breakfasted with Gen. Meade, before daylight, Sunday morning, April 9th, 1865. We started as soon as it was light enough to do so safely, to ride around the right flank of the rebel army to join Sheridan, whom we knew to be squarely in Lee’s front, somewhere near Appomattox Court House. We had to make a wide detour, to avoid running into Confederate pickets, flankers and bummers. It proved to be a long rough ride, much of the way without any well-defined road; often through fields and across farms; over hills, ravines and “turned out” plantations; across muddy brooks and bogs of quicksand. About eleven o’clock A.M. we halted for a few minutes to breathe our horses, in a new “clearing” where a number of log heaps were on fire. At one of these the party mainly dismounted, and lighted cigars from the blazing logs.

While there some one chanced to look back the way we had come, and saw a horseman coming at full speed, waving his hat above his head, and shouting at every jump of his steed. As he neared us we recognized him as Major [Lieutenant Charles E.] Pease, of Gen. Meade’s staff, mounted on a coal black stallion, white with foam, from his long and rapid pursuit of us.

Major Pease rode up to Gen. Rawlins, saluted, and handed him the sealed envelope. Rawlins tore one end open slowly, withdrew the inclosure, and read it deliberately. He then handed it to Gen. Grant, without a word of comment. The staff were all expecting Lee to surrender, and searched the countenance of Gen. Rawlins eagerly for some clue to the contents of the package. There was no exultation manifested—no sign of joy—and instead of flushing from excitement, he clenched his teeth, compressed his lips, and became very pale. Grant read it through mechanically, and handed it back to Rawlins, saying in a common tone of voice: “You had better read it aloud General.” The immovable expression of countenance in these two prominent actors in the great drama drawing to a close, was rather discouraging to the onlookers. Rawlins showed nothing but extra paleness. There was no more expression in Grant’s countenance than in a last year’s bird’s nest. Grant’s face was like the face of a Sphinx.

Rawlins drew a long breath, and in his deep sepulchral voice, a little tremulous by this time, read the following dispatch from Lee: